HOME  |  NEWS  |  BLOGS  |  MESSAGES  |  FEATURES  |  VIDEOS  |  WEBINARS  |  INDUSTRIES  |  FOCUS ON FUNDAMENTALS
  |  REGISTER  |  LOGIN  |  HELP
Blogs
Gadget Freak

Gadget Freak Case #219: Watching the Alpha Sparks Fly

View Comments: Threaded|Newest First|Oldest First
Beth Stackpole
User Rank
Blogger
Sparks or sparklers?
Beth Stackpole   7/6/2012 7:51:55 AM
Looks like a fun project and perfect timing for the Fourth of July!

naperlou
User Rank
Blogger
Re: Sparks or sparklers?
naperlou   7/6/2012 10:47:48 AM
Just right, Beth.  Build a big enough one and you wouldn't need fireworks.  I am not sure that would be safer, though.

Long ago I worked on spark and wire chambers.  I even helped with a needle chamber.  In those cases we wanted to see the track of any charged particle, so we had a chamber of a noble gas.  This ionized and the spark followed the ionized trail.  This simple detector is a great little project.  Now all we need is a cirsuit to count the particles.  Next project?

Rob Spiegel
User Rank
Blogger
Re: Sparks or sparklers?
Rob Spiegel   7/6/2012 12:46:46 PM
NO RATINGS
Good suggestion on a gadget, Naperlou. Anybody up for it?

j.iovine
User Rank
Iron
Re: Sparks or sparklers?
j.iovine   7/6/2012 10:09:46 PM
NO RATINGS
I'm sure a counter could be implemented into the design. Do you think it would have value?

armorris
User Rank
Platinum
Re: Sparks or sparklers?
armorris   7/7/2012 11:35:53 AM
NO RATINGS
 

A counter circuit would be very easy to implement. A Geiger counter works in an identical way, except that there is some gas inside a Geiger tube. There is both analog and digital means to do the job. Of course, without a known standard, you couldn't calibrate it. Although this is a cool gadget to play around with and for educational purposes, does it have any practical use? I understand that skin, and even paper stops alpha particles. That's why an alpha source (Americium, I think) is used in smoke detectors.

j.iovine
User Rank
Iron
Re: Sparks or sparklers?
j.iovine   7/7/2012 12:18:08 PM
NO RATINGS
I feel it has great educational potential. It allows one to visually see the detection of alpha particles. 

While this device will only detect alpha particles, spark chambers are used to see the passage of cosmic rays.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DpW08xV3RI8

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spark_chamber

 

 

bdcst
User Rank
Platinum
Re: Sparks or sparklers?
bdcst   7/9/2012 9:52:19 AM
NO RATINGS
Ouch Sparky!  Well if you must have a visual show I suggest abandoning the dangerous HV and going for a Cloud Chamber.  They are easy to build and the thickness of the vapor trail makes it easy to distinguish between alpha, beta or gamma (cosmic) radiation.  As a child I saw my first cloud chamber at a Russian technology exhibit at the New York Coliseum back in the late 1950's.  Both the Soviet Union and that NY exhibition hall are long gone.

shjacks45
User Rank
Bronze
Re: Sparks or sparklers?
shjacks45   7/9/2012 3:48:10 AM
Why publish something so useless? Your alpha source would need to be actually sitting on the metal plate to show activity. Alpha particles, even high energy particles, are stopped by our surface layer of dead skin. If you've ever used a cloud chamber you would know that alpha particles are stopped by a few inches (the size of the project) of air.

CLMcDade
User Rank
Gold
Re: Sparks or sparklers?
CLMcDade   7/9/2012 10:57:04 AM
"Useless" is a relative word and is very inappropriate for this forum.  Establishing the uselessness of a demonstration, experiment or idea is impossible - if the demonstration inspires just one person to build off of it somehow, it is not useless.

In a related story, apparently some in Pakistan don't think finding the "God particle" is all that amazing or important.  It is a very useless endeavor in their minds.  Heck,some members of our own Congress think that scientific data is useless and that science has no role in public policy. 

So bravo to John Iovine for taking the time to investigate and build a device that addressed his curiosity.

Island_Al
User Rank
Gold
Re: Sparks or sparklers?
Island_Al   7/9/2012 4:07:22 PM
NO RATINGS
@CLMcDade

Dead on that the term "useless" is inappropriate in this forum. While watching the video I was thinking about the possibility of adding a light sensor and micro to act as an event recorder. I have piles of what others would consider useless devices, but I learned from each project.  In my life TV and sports watching are useless, but I would not wish to stop anyone from doing so. I too want to thank John for taking the time for his contribution in both hardware and the video production.

 

armorris
User Rank
Platinum
Re: Sparks or sparklers?
armorris   7/10/2012 9:06:14 PM
NO RATINGS
You do not need a light sensor to electronically detect the sparks. Do what they do in a Geiger counter. Connect a capacitor from the ballast resistor (the metal plate in this case) to a small one-transistor amplifier. Each spark would would produce a pulse from the transistor that could be counted by a microcontroller or other counter circuit. There would not be two sparks simultaneously. Once a spark starts, the voltage is too low for another to begin. If two particles hit at EXACTLY the same time, the one with the most energy would prevail IMO. It should therefore, be an accurate count of the number of sparks.

I would move the ballast resistor and the capacitor to the grounded side of the HV power supply, however. Less stress on the coupling capacitor and the connected transistor.

j-allen
User Rank
Gold
Re: Sparks or sparklers?
j-allen   7/10/2012 5:31:22 PM
NO RATINGS
Al;ha detection useless?  Unless you consider Ernest Rutherford's historical Experimenmt that led to our modern nuclear atomic theory.  This was based on the production and detection of alpha particles.  Alpha detection through ionization and sparks has been insespensible throughout the development of modern atomic and particle physics.  Please. Mr shjacks, do your homework before picking up your pen. 

MrBill45140
User Rank
Iron
Great Demo
MrBill45140   7/9/2012 10:56:50 AM
NO RATINGS
I teach science to junior high homeschoolers.

They love sparks and noise and yes a little danger.  This project is a great way to introduce the alpha partical.  Inserting paper between the alpha source and the detector would be a good demonstration of the size of the alpha.

While a cloud chamber is certainly a good demonstration tool, its use is more difficult because dry ice is required.  In addition, cloud chamber has a limited field of view and difficult to see at a distance.  Using the "spark detector", in a darkened room, the entire class could see the effect.

tekochip
User Rank
Platinum
Re: Great Demo
tekochip   7/9/2012 11:26:32 AM
NO RATINGS
I agree, what an excellent demo.  You've got sights and sounds that can easily be perceived even in an Internet video.  Really nice job.

Rob Spiegel
User Rank
Blogger
Re: Great Demo
Rob Spiegel   7/9/2012 5:36:29 PM
NO RATINGS
Good thinking, MrBill. All of these Gadget Freak submissions are good teaching tools. Many of them are even submitted by students. We've had a bunch submitted by college-level engineering student teams. Recently we had a submission by a 15 year old.

mrdon
User Rank
Gold
Re: Great Demo
mrdon   7/21/2012 6:57:19 PM
NO RATINGS
Great project by John who is masterful in High Voltage Electronics. Gadget Freak projects are excellent teaching materials for all levels of science and engineering classes and student. Keep up the great work Design News staff.

westfw
User Rank
Iron
Re: Great Demo
westfw   7/10/2012 1:57:35 AM
You know someone has re-spun the classic cloud chamber to use Peltier coolers instead of dry ice:  http://www.nothinglabs.com/cloudchamber/

This spark detector design is different from the Willis design, particularly in the size of the ballast resistor (500 ohms vs "several megohms"); and explanations for the changes?

And where does the HV supply module come from?

 

Fred McGalliard
User Rank
Silver
Re: Great Demo
Fred McGalliard   7/10/2012 1:10:31 PM
NO RATINGS
Hi. This was great. Very Nostalgic for me. I haven't seen a spark chamber at work since the 1960s worlds fair in Seattle.

Of value? Well, that depends on whether or not you do particle physics. I can see I will have to build one to impress my 4 year old grand daughter. Just have to figure out the safety protocols for little fingers and 8KV, eh.

Partner Zone
More Blogs from Gadget Freak
There is less than a week left to vote in Round 1 of our second-annual Gadget Freak of the Year contest, sponsored by Allied Electronics.
Last year you helped Design News and Allied Electronics crown its first-ever Gadget Freak of the Year, and we need your help again.
This project is an experiment in generating supersonic shock waves called detonation waves.
The Arduino is great for connecting with hardware but has a limited user interface. Apple’s iOS devices have a great user interface but are limited when connecting with hardware.
The Window Watcher stops the burglar before he does damage or enters the house. House alarm service companies set off alarms and call the service only after the burglar has damaged and entered the house.
Design News Webinar Series
11/19/2014 11:00 a.m. California / 2:00 p.m. New York
11/6/2014 11:00 a.m. California / 2:00 p.m. New York
10/7/2014 8:00 a.m. California / 11:00 a.m. New York
12/11/2014 8:00 a.m. California / 11:00 a.m. New York
Quick Poll
The Continuing Education Center offers engineers an entirely new way to get the education they need to formulate next-generation solutions.
Nov 17 - 21, Analog Design for the Digital World
SEMESTERS: 1  |  2  |  3  |  4  |  5  |  6


Focus on Fundamentals consists of 45-minute on-line classes that cover a host of technologies. You learn without leaving the comfort of your desk. All classes are taught by subject-matter experts and all are archived. So if you can't attend live, attend at your convenience.
Last Archived Class
Sponsored by Littelfuse
Learn More   |   Login   |   Archived Classes
Twitter Feed
Design News Twitter Feed
Like Us on Facebook

Sponsored Content

Technology Marketplace

Copyright © 2014 UBM Canon, A UBM company, All rights reserved. Privacy Policy | Terms of Service